Selingan Turtle Island
At a 40km distance from Sandakan you can visit the Turtle Island. The Turtle Islands National Park comprises of 3 islands, Selingan, Gulisan and Bakungan Kechil (actually 10 in total, where 3 belong to Malaysia and the other 7 to the Philippines). The island got this name because of the many turtles that swim in the waters around the island. It is also the place where female Green turtles and Hawksbill turtles lay their eggs on the islands' beaches. Throughout the year, they come ashore at night to lay their eggs; usually in batches of 50 to 80.
"Selingan Turtle Island is one of the best destinations in Malaysia for its important role as the breeding ground for Green turtles and Hawksbill turtles in all of South East Asia."
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Overnight stay at Selingan Turtle Island
Selingan is the only island that tourists can visit. On the island there is basic accommodation available, Selingan Island Chalets, and there also is a turtle hatchery and visitors' center. During a visit you can witness turtles laying their egges and collect the eggs (under supervision) to put them back in a place outside of reach of predators (and poachers). If you stay at the island during the night, a marine park ranger will alert you when a turtle is spotted laying eggs (at night). Turtles that haven't been seen before will also be tagged for tracking purposes. Often visitors are also allowed to release young hatchlings back into the sea under the hatchling release programme. This too is done during the night to increase survival rates. Visitors are not allowed to roam the beaches of Selingan between 6pm and 6am in order not to disturb the turtles that come ashore. As all 'action' takes place during the nights, visitors resort to other activities during daytime such as scuba diving and snorkeling. Another attraction is a visit to Bakkungan Kechil Island, where tourists can visit the bubbling mud volcanoes. As the island of Selingan can only accommodate up to 50 people each night (25 rooms), tourists have to make reservations beforehand to ensure their spot on the island.
How to get to Selingan Turtle Island
Turtle Island can be reached by boat from Sandakan. There are daily flights from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu to this city. From Sandakan it is a 60 minute boat ride to Selingan Island. If you pre booked a tour by one of the tour companies then the boat ride will be part of the tour package. Official authorized tour operator is Crystal Quest and their boat departs daily at 9.30am from Sabah Park Jetty (there are other operators, but all goes through Crystal Quest in the end). Usually all meals are part of the tour packages, but drinks are not so bring enough cash along. Besides, you also need to pay a Turtle Island National Park Conservancy Fee; RM60 per person. The best time to visit Selingan Turtle Island is from March to July. The best time to experience turtles laying eggs is between July and October. Between October and February the weather can be quite unsettled.
Tip: Make reservations beforehand, due to the daily limit there is often no room at the island. Sometimes the island is 'fully booked' months before actual arrival.
Below you can see the location of Selingan Turtle Island on the map.